FEATURE: Coronavirus in Erdington’s care homes

Words & original photography by Ed King / Pic of Jean & Charles Beattie courtesy of Sarah Yates

As cases of coronavirus continue to skyrocket, the number of care home residents contracting COVID-19 heads towards an equally dark horizon.

At the time of writing, the latest government figures show 133,495 reported cases across the UK – resulting in over 18,000 deaths.

But with nearly 2,000 of those registered to residents of care homes, more than doubling over the Easter weekend, by the time you read this the number will be even higher.

In a recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, there were ‘19 cases of Coronavirus in Erdington Care Homes, either confirmed or suspected’ – with six residents having died either in their facility or after being moved to hospital, with another 11 cases waiting for confirmation on cause of death.

Alongside the increasing strain on supply chains crucial to the healthcare sector, such as manufactures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s arguably a case of when and not if. The only question left, is how much worse will the impact of coronavirus be for care homes and their residents?

He went in a week ago today,” tells Jean Beattie, whose husband, Charles, is currently in Heartlands Hospital being treated for coronavirus. “First of all, he went onto the pre-COVID ward, where they asses them. Then, once the test came back positive, they moved him to the COVID ward, and he’s been there the rest of the time.”

A resident of The Ridings Care Home in Castle Vale, Charles Beattie has underlying dementia and was referred to Heartlands after suffering a fall whilst getting out of a reclining chair. “Because his oxygen saturation levels were so low, which makes him dizzy and wobbly on his legs, he over balanced,” explains Jean, “and hit his head on the chest of draws.”

I think the paramedics forwarded the information (to the hospital) that there was COVID on the unit, so he automatically went to the pre-COVID ward. But he wasn’t admitted because of his general health.”

But treating the physical symptoms is only half the battle for some patients, and Jean also has concerns around her husband’s dementia.  

He’s on a high dependency unit within the care home… they know him, and he knows them. They are his security blanket. In fact, he relates more to them now than he does to us, his family. Because he’s with them 24/7… It’s the people that are looking after him all the time that are his immediate family now.”

Home is where the heart is, or where the mind can find peace. But what protection do both staff and residents have if that happens to be a care home facility?

They’d got nothing,” tells Jean – who explains the required PPE only reached The Ridings over Easter, “just the ordinary paper masks. And they’ve got COVID positive patients in there at the time; and had lost some of them as well.”

All they’d got were their plastic aprons, the gloves that they always have, and the paper masks that everybody has in a care environment – be it a hospital or whatever.”

Quick to support the staff at The Ridings, who Jean believes “should be paid in gold bars not pence,” the adversity health practitioners face during the coronavirus crisis should also highlight their worth.

It’s really important that they are pulled into the equation,” tells Jean, “they’re really have been forgotten. I understand why all the concentration, in the first instance, was on getting care and service into the frontline of the NHS. But they (Government) should have realised that this was a bombshell waiting to explode.”

I’m full of admiration and I’m very, very grateful for everything they’ve done in Heartlands (Hospital). But he needs to be with his family. Which is the home. Once he’s there, no matter what the outcome, I will feel happier.”

Away from the fierce debate over PPE, there is another supply chain crucial to the health care industry – a cookie jar the general public have their fingers stuck in too. Food.

The most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with is the food chain,” explains Anglea – an administrator at Cedar Lodge Nursing Home on Kingsbury Road.

We’ve used online shopping for many years, because as it gives the residents more variety. I’ve got Asda’s website in front on me now; the slots only go up to 7th May and every single one is sold out. Every one from 6am to 11pm is sold out.”

Going direct to the supermarket shelves can be tricky too, as care homes are currently not exempt from the store by store rationing. “We take a letter to prove that we were purchasing for a care home,” explains Angela, “but one local supermarket wouldn’t let me buy three bags of porridge – even though I was buying for a care home.”

The day before I’d been at Spar in Wylde Green, they were wonderful. Sainsbury’s at Castle Vale, they didn’t restrict us either – I said to the person going shopping, make sure you’ve got your letter with you. But he went in and nobody stopped him. So, we were able to get what we needed.”

For most of us, bare shelves and item restrictions are a frustration. But when you’re cooking over 100 meals a day, it threatens lives. Not to mention the mental stress put on already vulnerable residents.

They can’t have any family come and visit,” tells Angela, “the regular entertainers and exercise classes… we’re not able to have those people come in anymore.”

If they were to have restrictions on their food or diet… to be honest I can’t imagine what sort of impact that would have on them.”

Sadly, concerns over both PPE and food in care homes are not uncommon. The recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, contacting all 47 care homes across the Erdington constituency, identified ‘9 care homes (that) have indicated that food supply is an issue,’ raising concerns about ‘both item limits and lack of availability for online deliveries’.

Then there’s the issue of PPE, which most people at the end of an Internet connection will know is a widespread concern across the country.

In Erdington, 48% of the 47 care homes still have worries over accessing the right protective equipment – whilst ‘one care home has only received 600 masks since the start of the crisis, with staff now having to re-use masks due to a shortage.’

But, in Erdington at least, there is a plan to help care homes ‘secure adequate amounts of food needed to feed their residents.’ In a letter to Tesco’s CEO, David Lewis, Jack Dromey has asked for two clear changes in operational policy:

  • Exempt care homes from the item restriction limit that is in place for regular shoppers
  • Create special online delivery slots to enable care homes to access online deliveries – preventing their staff from making unnecessary trips to the supermarket where they risk contracting COVID-19

The Government must urgently reassure care homes that they will not be forgotten during this crisis,” says Jack Dromey MP. “They deserve with the NHS full access to PPE. Care home workers, as well as NHS staff, are delivering vital care in extremely dangerous situations. They are both working in close proximity to the virus and therefore both deserve proper protection.”

That, and the ability to feed their residents; regular meals shouldn’t be too much to ask. Now is a time for community and kindness. And someone keeps telling us ‘every little helps.’

To find out more about the spread of coronavirus, from the Office for National Statistics, visit www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases

For the latest information from Public Heath England, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

To find out more about the work being done for Erdington by Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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FEATURE: Staying home for Easter – how Eastern Europeans in Erdington celebrate Easter during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individuals featured

We were not guaranteed a future in this country,” Laszlo Molnars tells Erdington Local, via an international a phone call.

It has been several weeks since Laszlo left the UK, making the decision to take his family back to Hungary as countries across mainland Europe were taking themselves into lockdown – with Britain being one of the last on the list. “It was a big decision for us to leave the UK so soon…” sighs Lazlo, “but we are happy to be somewhere we feel safe.”

Erdington is home to many Eastern Europeans, a vibrant Diaspora who have built families, businesses, and lives in the North East Birmingham constituency. Predominately Christian by faith, Easter would normally see with many returning to their countries of origin – celebrating the festive period with their wider families and communities.

But due to the coronavirus global pandemic, and the restrictions of travel – both domestic and international – that have been enforced across the world, this Spring’s festive repatriation has raised difficult questions for many families. Laszlo and his family are now back in Hungary, but what about those who stayed in the UK?

I planned to go to Poland for Easter with my daughter,” explains Anna Fijałkowska, 34, who was unable to see her family or do the things she would normally do at Easter, “I would go to Poland and spend Easter with my family, mother, sister and grandmother.” Like many of the over 800,00 Polish people living in the UK, Anna desired to return – preferring the quicker response by the Polish government to the original ‘herd immunity’ promulgated by the UK administration.

But it is still Easter. And Wielki Post (Holy Week) is still a big deal, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like Poland. “I could not go to church for Palm Sunday,” continues Anna, “I could not go to get my basket blessed.” With all the religious rituals on hold in the UK, this time of year would seem very alien for people like Anna.

But despite all these complications Anna remains positive, finding delight at spending so much quality time with her daughter – even in the shadow of something so nasty: “I think the time of this virus is a very special time for us which shows us that we should focus more on building family relationships. I still prepared all the foods that I would at Easter.” Biała kiełbasa [smoked meats], Mazurek [Easter cakes] and of course, pisanki [Easter eggs] all take centre stage in Polish households, although this year without being taken to church for a blessing.

With an established Polish community in Erdington and across Birmingham, St Michael’s Church and the Polish Millennium Centre serving as focal points, for some Eastern Europeans their whole life is here already. Atanas Slavchev or ‘Nasko’, 34, moved to Erdington from Bulgaria six years ago.

Happy Easter!” he exclaims over the phone. Most Bulgarians would celebrate Easter on 19th April – like with most other Orthodox countries, Eastern European Christianity follows the Julian calendar, meaning common religious festivals can be held at different times in different countries.

Every day is Easter,” explains Nasko, “as Christ is risen. But we celebrate it especially today, like the Orthodox.” Nasko’s family are not orthodox, but rather part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) church in Erdington – home to a lively evangelical band, called El Shaddai. Somewhat unlike the Orthodox style a capella chants, it’s not your typical Bulgarian affair; this time of year would still have been a time of jubilation.

Similar themes of religious celebration, gathering of families and unique cuisine, rise from Nasko’s conversation: Kozunak [Easter bread], Lamb dishes [reflecting the ‘lamb of God’], and, eggs [which they paint] define the taste and style of Easter for Bulgarians.

But there is disappointment, “our kids were rehearsing hard for the Easter play, but they can’t do that now.” Another cancelled event for Nasko’s family.

He and his wife run Sofia, a Bulgarian food and convenience store on Tyburn Road. Their wider family in Erdington numbers around 70 – uncles, aunties and cousins included – and they’ve kept Sofia open, catering to the Bu;garian community but also for non-Bulgarians who have caught on that these shops still have pasta and flour during the coronavirus crisis – only the writing is in another language.

It’s still important to Nasko and his family to visit their home country, but he predicts they won’t get time this year due to complications from the global pandemic, “we wanted to go to Bulgaria but we may end up just going to Cornwall for our holiday.”

Ramona Petrescu, 26, is not with any family this Easter. She moved to the UK about five years ago to improve her English and meet new people – working in factory jobs, alongside some translation work, and selling her wares as an artist and crafter.

Lamb dishes, Pască [Romanian Easter bread] and ‘ouă incondeiate’ [decorated eggs] also define this time for Romanians, which, like Bulgaria, is a mostly orthodox country. But it has been hard for Ramona to get into the Easter spirit at all – even whist not being religious, this time is still a marked celebration in her year.

The usual excitement for the day has definitely gone”, explains Ramona, “I am definitely less upbeat and more into introspection and peace of heart and mind, while I find myself far away from what I ‘ve known to be comfortable in Romania”. Ramona wanted to paint eggs but didn’t finds she have the will or the time this year.

Although on Easter Sunday, Ramona treated herself to ‘ouă umplute’ (devilled eggs) which she assures was a “great Romanian invention.”

With thanks to Magdalena and Oksana from the Polish Expats Association for assistance with research. For more on the Polish Expats Association, visit www.facebook.com/polish.expats

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NEWS: Erdington’s John Taylor Hospice operates central support hub for regionwide palliative and end of life care

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of John Taylor Hospice Erdington

John Taylor Hospice, in Erdington, is housing a new centralised support hub for people across Birmingham and Solihull – helping deliver regionwide palliative and end of life care during the coronavirus crisis.

Comprised of approximately 40 specialists from John Taylor Hospice, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, and the Marie Curie Hospice, the central hub has a rotating team of support staff available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Named Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull (HoBS), the hub operates a live telephone bank and email service where people can reach a team of specialist nurses at any point, day or night – alongside palliative care consultants, healthcare assistants, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and administrators.

Working with other healthcare providers across Birmingham and Solihull, the HoBS team are on hand for patients or family members who need advice, community support, or admittance to one of the three hospices’ Inpatient Units for round-the-clock care.

The HoBS team will then ensure, depending on individual needs, the required care can be provided – either at people’s homes or at the hospices themselves, providing a range of care options in line with guidelines from Public Heath England.

As huge demand is put on all NHS services due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull is a collaborative approach to palliative and end of life care – with health care providers across the region pooling their resources to provide support for those facing life threatening and terminal illnesses.

With regular updates and specialist information coming directly from the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, staff at the HoBS hub are working from the most up to date medical advice and guidence – further supporting patients and families across the region, as hospitals and hospices are self-isolating to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Across Birmingham and Solihull we have hundreds of specialist hospice staff who will be on call for people, both day and night,” explains Rachel O’Connor, Assistant Chief Executive of Birmingham and Solihull Sustainability and Transformation Partnership. “Our three adult hospices have seen the current need and acted rapidly to meet that. Working together we can provide the very best of expert care for people at the end of their lives.

Our aim is to ensure that individuals, their families and professionals receive joined-up and easy to navigate advice, support and access to care across from our dedicated and compassionate hospice teams when they need it the most.”

To reach the Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull helpline, available 24hrs a day and seven days a week, you can telephone (0121) 809 1900 or email hobs.referral@nhs.net

St Giles Hospice’s existing advice and referral centre will continue to operate, including its referral pathway – accessible by calling 0330 330 9410

For more on John Taylor Hospice in Erdington, visit www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association delivers key support services online

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics by Ed King

To counter the impact of the lockdown imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) is now delivering its key support services online.

People who need help, advice, and guidance around employment and health & wellbeing can now access a range of WLCA’s services, tools, and resources via platforms like Facebook, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

Employment and Engagement Officer, Dellano Lewis, launched the new era with a Facebook Live session.

This has now been complemented by regular WhatsApp group employment support sessions, Employment Support workshops on Zoom, and Health & Wellbeing Zoom Support Group meetings.

Full details about the online resources and services Witton Lodge Community Association are delivering can be found via a dedicated COVID-19 page on the WLCA website, alongside details of the Erdington Emergency Assets Register – a wider list of businesses and volunteer groups offering support during the coronavirus crisis.

Iram Fardus, Business Development and Performance Manager for Witton Lodge Community Association, said it is vital people still have access to services and provisions.

“The circumstances we find ourselves in make it even more important that we reach and connect with people to give them the support and information they need,” explains Fardus.

“While these are unprecedented times people’s needs remain a priority for us and we know from the conversations we’re having with clients that having access to support services is absolutely critical right now.

“Knowing there is someone out there you can talk to, who can help you, is a massive boost for people who would otherwise be cut off from the support they are dependent on.

“And while the focus is on service delivery around employment and wellbeing, it’s just as important – in the current climate – to offer people the chance to connect and engage with others.”

For details of all online workshops, sessions and group meetings being delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association – and how to access them – please visit the organisation’s COVID-19 web page at www.wittonlodge.org.uk/covid19-news-information-and-resources

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FEATURE: Saturday night cabin fever – how Erdington musicians are coping in the coronavirus lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individual musicians featured

Lampstands, sofas and surprise appearances from family pets – the new performance stages for musicians as they stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requesting songs from Alexa or re-runs of Glastonbury just aren’t the same as the live-spirit that comes from a craftsman with their tool – a musician and their instrument.

Musicians want to keep the ‘food of love’ in constant supply, and live-streaming is helping feed the community.

Erdington Local caught up with three Erdington based musicians to see how their lives have changed since lockdown.

When she’s not in high profile business meetings or adventuring around Asia, Jo Baldwin (37) is usually gigging 4 times a week with her band The Jo Baldwin Project (JPB).  From pubs, bars and functions of all kinds, Jo’s weekends are often enthralling and exhausting. The JBP tend to perform rock and pop covers from the 1980s-present, and Jo singing for 3 hours with only short breaks.  

“Music has done wonders for my mental health” she says, her beaming, proud smile almost audible over the phone. Jo openly reminds audiences that she went through a dark time and that music was her constant companion.

Now she’s at home, she has found time for her three true loves: her black Labrador, Josie, her one-eyed Turkish cat, Emre, and her music. Her pets are enjoying the attention, and she’s always assured an attentive audience of two whilst in lockdown. Jo has taken to live-streaming regularly, and self-isolation has meant she has found time to work on her own original songs – and the band are finding it good fun working remotely.

But this is not enough to keep Jo occupied. She’s working from home as the key account manager for a pharmaceutical company and she’s gone the extra mile with her company’s “voluntary redeployment position” – she delivers medicine to patients, and she finds it a humbling experience. “Patients are telling me how happy they are. One was over the moon he didn’t have to catch two buses to the clinic.”

The next few weeks of self-isolation for Jo look positive. Sunshine and dog-walks, time for beloved music and to work on her album. She’s also now“into Tik Tok.”

For some, music is their full-time job. In the Chancellor’s speech on the 26th March, Rishi Sunak said:

I know that many self-employed people are deeply anxious about the support available for them. Musicians and sound engineers; plumbers and … through no fault of their own, risk losing their livelihoods.”

Perhaps this will have assuaged musician’s fears?

One such full-time muso is Reuben Reynolds (29), who before the lockdown, was in demand by schools and bands around the country. He spent his professional time teaching in Leicester and Brixton.

Like Jo, his weekends were dominated by gigs – he tends to back R&B artists, pop artists, gospel bands, and it’s not uncommon for him to be performing for 100s if not 1000s of people at concert venues.

So, what has Reuben been up to?

“I’ve been sleeping a lot more,” he proudly states over the phone. The odd hours musicians have to work – not just the gigs and the teaching, but rehearsals and preparing material, can often dominate their lives.

“I’ve found more time for study and rehearsal, as well as working on some recordings.”

Rueben has always used social media to share his beautiful music and advertise his incredible and varied guitar abilities, and he thinks “it’s important to share and connect” with people.

He seems pretty relaxed about his earnings, too: “I’ve been enjoying the lockdown!” he laughs, “initially, we’re just looking at the next few months wondering where the income is going to come from. But the Government seem to have plans in place.”

He explains that one of his schools are preparing for lessons on Zoom so they can continue to teach students following the Easter break, so he hasn’t escaped work completely.

It’s difficult to predict when this lockdown will end, but Reuben, like many musicians, would be devastated if the country is still in lockdown in August – prime festival season.

It’s saddening to hear of all the postponed-weddings and funerals with so few people attending, wakes are not an option. That also means putting the kibosh on musicians like Edwin Podolski (24) from Kraków, who now lives in Erdington.

He’s a violinist/violist who graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire. He was in huge demand in orchestras, quartets and string-related music groups – and all bookings for his regular groups such as MAKK and Bollywood Strings have been cancelled or postponed. He was especially looking forward to a big concert in London this April, where he was top of the bill.

The lockdown has allowed Edwin to develop his creative side, arranging English folk tunes for string duo.

He’s been trying to teach his private students over Zoom, but he’s not a fan, “it’s so frustrating. The delay, the bad sound”. No replacement for real life!

Edwin’s been rather excited to find more time for exercise. Before lockdown, Edwin would attend a Muay Thai boxing group, although it’s difficult to train without a partner.

There are so many other people who work in the arts and rely on face-to-face business, as well as people who consume it and make these interactions part of their routine. Erdington MP, Jack Dromey has said: “after food and medicine, isolation will be the big issue – and I want the Arts to play a big role in it.”

All these musicians and art-types may yet have a role to play in the weeks to come. Music plays such an important role in human culture, and these Erdington musicians won’t let a pandemic stop them from creating art.

To find out more about the artists featured in this article, click here for more on The Jo Baldwin Projectclick here for more on Reuben Reynolds, and click here for more on Edwin Podolski.

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LOCAL PROFILE: Jo Bull – founder of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID-19’ Facebook group

Words by Terri-Anne Fell / Pic courtesy of Jo Bull

Jo Bull has been living in Erdington for 13 years. Since she was a teenager, she has been creating handmade cards which she sells to raise money for Erdington’s YMCA. Itching to be a part of her community, Jo volunteers as a peer lead for mental health service users in the area, encouraging vulnerable people to create friendships and gain creative skills they wouldn’t normally have.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jo realised very quickly that services she and many others turned to in their hour of need would have to close – so she took to Facebook to look for an online community she could be a part of, to help in any way she could.

Noticing other areas in Birmingham had created response groups, Jo created the Erdington Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group. Since its inception last month, the group has amassed over 600 members. Currently, the group has supported over 400 households and has 63 active volunteers.

Jo’s role in the group is to provide online support to people who need somebody to talk to, and she signposts to services she knows can help vulnerable people.

Erdington Local is proud to recognise and celebrate Jo Bull – a fantastic member of our community and a well-deserved Erdington Local Hero.

____________

EL: What’s your relationship with Erdington, how long have you lived/worked in the area?
Jo: I’ve lived in Erdington for 13 years; I live on Watt road and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place.  I moved here in 2007, just after theological college, where my first job was working in Erdington Job Centre for the Department of Work & Pensions. I remember noticing when I started working at the Job centre that almost all of my colleagues didn’t live locally. They all thought it was strange that I did!

EL: If you could shout about something in Erdington so loud the whole of Birmingham could hear, what would it be?               
Jo: Eden Café. It’s my favourite.  They are fab. They’ve been open for about three years and are attached to the YMCA. It’s just a really nice place to visit and to be a part of. I always have a latte, and any day they have good cake is my favourite day! They are friendly and have quite a few regulars who like me have various issues and disabilities. They are good at getting to know their people and catering to all of our little quirks.

EL: In your spare time, you’ve been creating handmade cards. How long have you been doing this for?
Jo: I’ve been making cards since I was a teenager. I’m 42, so I started nearly 30 years ago as I got really frustrated with finding the perfect card in the shop. I’d open them and find they’d say things inside that had nothing to do with the person I was sending it to! I thought because I can’t find what I want, I’d just do it myself. They sell my cards in Eden Café, and the profits from sales go to the YMCA.

EL: Whilst the UK is in lockdown, you’ve set up the Erdington Local Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group, what made you want to set up the group?
Jo: As the UK went in to lockdown I realised everything I was a part of in the community would be stopped, which made me feel absolutely devastated and lost. I thought to myself that people in Birmingham are going to need a way to talk to each other, people were setting up local COVID-19 groups and someone asked me if there was one in Erdington. There wasn’t, so I made one.

EL: Did you anticipate the group would gain the traction it has?
Jo: I wasn’t expecting people to join. To start off with I just added people I knew from the day centre and gave the link to a few people who were asking for it. For the first two days I was the only one posting anything; I was a little bit gutted so I went away for a few hours and when I came back to the group there were 30 people wanting to join, it was like the cavalry coming in. I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know me, we all just wanted to help.

EL: How have you managed to keep the support consistent as the group has grown?
Jo: As the group was growing, I realised I couldn’t be the only admin. I didn’t know if my mental health would hold out and if I got sick I didn’t want to leave people on their own in the group. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have all the other admins.

EL: In the group you’ve said you mostly provide online support for people who may be struggling with their mental health, why did you decide to take on this role?
Jo: At the day centre, I volunteer as a peer lead for mental health service users. So, I worked out with the other admins that it was OK for anyone to chat with me if they needed an emotional offload.  You never know who you are coming in to contact with when on deliveries and you may meet really vulnerable people and not know what to do.

I’ve spoken to people who have been really suffering whilst in lockdown, and people have come to the group saying they don’t know whether they’ll be able to get through this. I’ve found I’m able to signpost people to organisations that will be able to help them easily and I’m great at being able to motivate people.

EL: Speaking of motivating people, you’ve been using your handmade cards to spread joy to volunteers in the group. One of our writers received a card and it was so lovely!
Jo: I seem to be chief card maker for the group,  I’ve already given cards to people who have helped me personally during lockdown, but David (Owen) had the idea of sending every volunteer a thank you card and I did 23 cards – one for every active volunteer at the time.  I thought my hand was going to fall off, I wrote a proper message in all of them. They are all working hard and they deserved a handwritten personalised thank you.

EL: As the person who created the Erdington COVID-19 Community Response group, do you think other organisations in the area are doing enough to help the fight against coronavirus?
Jo: I think it is phenomenal that people are able to do anything; however much we do I think there will always be something that still needs to be done, we can’t fix everything. I would say, are we all going to bed having done what we can today?

If we focus on what we are doing and what we have done, rather than what can be done, then we are likely to help more people. We do what we can, and not what we can’t. As long as I know people are getting help, I’m happy.

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward your details to the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local

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NEWS: Erdington Arts Forum presents an online Evening of Creativity

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 17th April, Erdington Arts Forum will be hosting their monthly Evening of Creativity online – edited for a special broadcast through the Erdington Arts Forum/Café Arts Facebook Page, from 7:30pm.

This month sees a rich and diverse line up including live music, performance poetry, and visual art – presenting a series of special sets that have been recorded and sent from the artist’s own houses and studios.

Appearing at this month’s Evening of Creativity will be the ever popular Barbara Nice, who will be using her own twinkle in the eye storytelling for a riotous set of comedy and tall tales – delivered directly from her home to yours.

Also performing will be saxophonist George Northall, who has previously toured with rock legends Black Sabbath and will be presenting his own special solo set.

Families make up the rest of the musical line up, with father and son duo The Shearers playing their own brand of indie folk – alongside some tried and tested feel good classics. Whilst The Hendersons, father and daughter, complete the live music line up with their own brand of ‘floral jazz’.

Perfomance poet Empress P will also be recording a special set of spoken word and verse, adding exra flavour to the night’s artistic melting pot.

Alongside the live music and poetry, the event will feature presentations throughout the evening from local visual artists, including pieces from Jennette Hill, Ramona Petrescu, Andy Spencer, and Simon Walker.

Having run since 2017, Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity has become a regular fixture in Erdington – hosted every month by its founder, Jobe Baker-Sullivan.

Committed to supporting artists across the constituency, as well as introducing new performers and acts to the area, each Evening of Creativity is a unique showcase event – curated with care for the people of North East Birmingham and beyond.

Usually hosted by the OIKOS Café on Erdington High Street, the regular musical and performance evenings have been held every month since their inception – even during the coronavirus crisis.

But due to the social distancing restrictions put in place by Public Health England, last month’s event was streamed from a special Secret Arts Space on Erdington High Street – as featured in the video below.

This month’s Evening of Creativity has expanded the line up with pre-recorded sets from artists across the city – to be broadcast via the Erdington Arts Forum/Café Arts Facebook page from 7:30pm on Friday 17th April.

Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity – Friday 20th March

Evening of Creativity – SASS

We're livestreaming from the SASS [Secret art space studios] in Erdington to bring you the Evening of Creativity – as planned – although with the slight interruption of Covid-19… Thank you to Ship of Fools and Ire-ish who were still able to make the gig! All public gigs are cancelled, but we hope to continue to support our musicians & artists with opprotunities – and most importantly – funds, when time allows. Please donate to Active Arts as normal. Your donation means a lot!:Active Arts Castle ValeLLoyd's Bankaccount: 00543207sort code: 30-00-03

Posted by CAFE Arts Forum on Friday, 20 March 2020

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 17th April, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

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FEATURE: Rugby dad tackles COVID-19 lockdown – Erdington Rugby Club player and patron, David Owen, is ready to ‘ruck’ n roll with community response to coronavirus

Words by Keat Moore / Pics courtesy of David Owen

Erdington local, David Owen, has been a star player when it comes to community response to the COVID-19 lockdown – which has left many residents housebound and anxious about how they’re going to access food and supplies.

David (37), who works as a Data Analyst for National Express, leapt into action after seeing a post on Facebook calling for volunteers – as part of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID19’ group set up by another Erdington resident, Jo Bull.

The Facebook group currently has over 600 members and has become a de facto hub for those seeking or offering support to the Erdington community during the coronavirus crisis. And thanks to the efforts of David and Jo, as well as their team of nearly 60 active volunteers, they’ve already helped over 200 people.

Erdington Local contacted David to find out more about the man nicknamed ‘Mr. Erdington’, and how he’s getting on.

“I feel like a kid with his finger in the dam, to be honest,” admits David, “but we’re doing well, and our volunteers are doing an amazing job”. Given the uncertainty around how long the coronavirus lockdown could last, let alone the pandemic, it’s not surprising he feels apprehensive.

At the time of writing, the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group has 57 volunteers – all members of the community who just want to help. Each evening, David posts an update to the group and gives special thanks to his ‘Angels of the Day’; whether it’s collecting hundreds of sandwiches or delivering a single bottle of Calpol, these volunteers are going that extra mile to perform small miracles of community-spirit when people need each other the most.

David also has fronted £200 of his own money to ensure everyone, even those who can’t afford much, don’t go without. “I’m not too concerned about the money at the moment,” tells David, “we can sort that out after, but right now people need food and that’s more important” – although he wishes he had more money to cover all of the volunteer’s expenses, even though they haven’t asked for any compensation.

All of the volunteers pay for the groceries out of their own pockets and give the receipts to David so he can transfer the money back to their bank accounts, a system that also works as a deterrent for those who would try to take advantage.

“We’ve had a few chancers, but not many. And once they know I’ll be checking their details and that everything we do is cashless, they don’t respond, ” David takes safeguarding seriously after reports from other parts of the city that vulnerable people have been defrauded by those pretending to be volunteers. “I know a lot of people in the area already, and you get a feel for who the dodgy ones are. But honestly, we haven’t had to deal with anything like that,” and whilst he doesn’t have the means to perform DBS checks, David does the best he can to ensure the group’s volunteers are who they say they are by verifying their addresses and identities via the electoral roll.

David and his volunteers are even happy to make shopping trips multiple times a week for the same individual, if needed. “I do have to tell people that we’re not going to do a weekly shop,” explains David, “they have to limit it to three days’ worth of supplies, and not £90 weekly shops, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to carry on.”

The Active Wellbeing Society, who have been appointed by Birmingham City Council to help coordinate and distribute food supplies across the city, are also supporting David and his efforts – which he says has helped manage the increasing demand and need from the community: “TAWS have been brilliant, they have loads of food from across the city and they’ve got people prepping and packing hot meals and we deliver them.”

“I’ve always been rubbish at being idle,” David responds when asked what inspired him to get involved, “and I’m a big believer in community spirit, especially in Erdington.” He’s no stranger to rallying for a cause either, having campaigned and fundraised for the Erdington Rugby Club. It was brought back from extinction through David’s efforts and the generosity of the local community, going from strength to strength, even replacing the changing rooms with a donated double-decker bus (nicknamed Rugger) kitted out with showers.

But the biggest surprise for David has been discovering how many organisations work in Erdington to support the community, “I’ve never really been exposed to these kinds of organisations because I’m all about the rugby club, but it’s really reassuring to know that they’re out there trying to make a difference.”

He’s also been touched by how quickly he and the other volunteers have built relationships with the people they support, “it’s lovely, we’ll call ahead to let them know we’re on the way with their shopping so they can pick it up from the doorstep, and when we get there they’ll be in the window with a big grin, giving us all a wave.”

David’s also got big plans for when the lockdown is over, “I’m going to throw a big party for all of the volunteers and for everyone we’ve supported. All of us have made friends that we didn’t have before, and I want to celebrate that and the community-spirt that I always knew Erdington had. I don’t want us to go back to being strangers.”

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward on your details to David Owen and the the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local/

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OPINION: The Clap

Words by Keat Moore

On Thursday evenings families gather on their doorsteps, driveways and balconies and wait. Then, at precisely 8.00 pm the quiet, lockdown-muffled, streets erupt with the sound of applause, drums, fireworks, and the clash of pots and pans.

‘Clap for Carers’ was started in the UK by Annemarie Plas, a Dutch woman living in South London, when she took to social media to encourage her friends to emulate similar displays seen in the Netherlands, Spain and France. It soon went viral, and three weeks after Boris Johnson told the nation they must stay home, households have seized the opportunity to break the monotony. Clap for Carers has now become an almost ritualistic display of appreciation and gratitude for the continued efforts of our NHS workers in tackling the pandemic.

However, there’s something about the whole spectacle that makes me grimace.

Before the word coronavirus became part of the world’s lexicon, the NHS had been fighting a lonely battle against the Government. Starting in 2010 with George Osborne’s austerity measures the NHS saw a dramatic slow-down in funding and a real-terms budget cut, it had to dig deep to shield patients from the financial impact of the cuts, at the cost of frontline workers who bore the brunt through working harder and longer shifts.

In 2016, then Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt appeared to recognise the plight of the NHS: “Without its people, the NHS is just empty buildings… Fill it full of NHS staff, you’ve got something really special.”

He acknowledged the extraordinary work done by the NHS and its people, and for a moment there was hope that the NHS had finally won the battle, that this recognition of the commitment and dedication shown by staff would be rewarded. Mr Hunt then went on to announce that he’d be scrapping student nurse bursaries and introducing tuition fees.

The consequence was 900 fewer applications to study nursing as the country was facing a shortfall of 25,000 nurses. And it wasn’t just nurses who were subjected to this Annie Wilkes approach to appreciation, junior doctors were subjected to a 40% pay cut which resulted in industrial strike action from the BMA. The NHS had 6,000 unfilled doctor and GP positions at the time.

To compound the issue further, this happened around the time the UK had voted to leave the EU. EU/EEA nationals account for over 9% of the doctors and 6% of the nurses working within the NHS, respectively, let alone the almost 70,000 EU nationals working in adult social care –  that’s nearly 200,000 doctors, nurses and carers who’s future was, and still is, now uncertain.

The NHS has been battling on several fronts, for many years, against many governments, against many issues and against all odds – but now it faces a new threat, an unseen and lethal enemy, with the potential to decimate our health service.

Right now, they’re facing an impossible task which they are completely unprepared and unequipped for. In 2016, due to mounting concern that a pandemic would be the greatest threat likely to face the UK, the Government staged a nationwide pandemic preparedness drill codenamed Exercise Cygnus based on a fictional outbreak of ‘swan flu’.

The conclusions gathered from that exercise have never been released publicly, but local authorities who took part in the drill have noted that PPE supplies were an area of concern. It’s also worth mentioning that according to DHSC accounts, the value of the UK’s emergency stockpile (consisting of PPE, including respirator masks, gloves and aprons) had fallen by more than £200m between 2016 – 2019.

And now we’re witnessing the heart-breaking ramifications of those decisions.

It’s tragic that the true value of the NHS, if there was any doubt, only comes to the fore at the hour of our need, but it’s nothing new for the workers on the frontline. They have always been here, doing the extraordinary every day, and whilst the loss of life within the NHS is painful to bear we must try to keep in mind that the loss of life without the NHS would be unfathomable.

More needs to be done to ensure that the actions and gratitude displayed within the community marry up with the actions and decisions made in Whitehall; because when this fight is won, it will be hard-won by the brave and steadfast people of the NHS, and we will look to them when it’s time to nurse this nation and the community back to health.

I hope by then, that they will have earned much more than a standing ovation.

Keat Moore is editor of Erdington Local – you can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/_mr_moore

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